The Irish Crown Jewels: Purging the Order of Saint Patrick


As a result of the theft of the Crown Jewels, King Edward VII’s intended investiture of Lord Castletown into the Order of Saint Patrick during the visit of 1907 had to wait until February 1908, when Vicars had been "purged." The King had insisted on the Order’s being re-constituted, which necessitated the removal of all existing officers–a subtle move. The vacant posts were then filled by Captain Nevile Wilkinson, a son-in-law of the Earl of Penbroke, who became Ulster Herald; Captain Guillamore O’Grady, who became Dublin Herald; and Mr. George Burtschaell, who became Athlone Pursuivant.

The new Ulster Herald was faced with a problem, for, apart from the remaining insignia of the Order of St. Patrick, the strong room in Dublin Castle contained the silver maces and the Irish Sword of State, which were carried before the Lord Lieutenant on ceremonial occasions, and all three were needed for a coming levee. Vicars refused to hand over the keys, but Wilkinson, undaunted, broke into the inner sanctuary with the aid of crowbars wielded by two lusty labourers supplied by the Board of Works. "Then," reported the new Ulster Herald, "my quest accomplished. I quietly joined the guests as they sat over their coffee, and pointed out the recovered symbols of state to His Excellency as we passed through the Throne Room on our way to join the ladies."

There could scarcely have been a greater contrast between this practical, honest soldier, as Ulster Herald, and his fussy and fastidious predecessor.

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